By JOSEPH TINTLE
Christmas is traditionally the season of giving, but at the age of twenty-two I was more into receiving. That is until the day a girlfriend of mine asked me to play Santa Claus for her brother, Glenn. Gayle told me that he was “beginning to ask questions” about the existence of Santa Claus and she and her family wanted just one more Christmas that Glenn was a “believer.”
“Would you mind dressing up as Santa Claus and convince him otherwise?” she asked me.
I didn’t think it was such a great idea. I was no actor. I was thin as a rail at six-feet-one-inch and 170 pounds, and I had realized by age seven that Santa did not exist. Hey, deal with reality, kid.
But when you are only five weeks into dating someone and you want to keep it going, you tend to bend your principles.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “But I need some girth.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Gayle said. “We’ve got a great costume and plenty of padding, and the beard is guaranteed to stick if he tries to yank it off.”
Later that night Gayle sneaked the costume to my car and I returned the next day – Christmas Eve – with every intention of putting on a grand performance.
Just after 6 p.m. I pulled up to her house but several cars were parked in front, so I drove a hundred feet or so past her house, parked and got out.
As I cut across a neighbor’s property, owned by the Mays, I saw their family of four – one dad, a mom, two sons, and two grandparents – seated at table in their dining room celebrating Chanukah. That’s when I got a magical idea: Why not sneak up alongside the dining room window and let the boys get a glimpse of Santa during a Jewish celebration. How often has that happened?
As they ate, they faced the window and I figured only they would see me. I was correct. When one kid looked up from his plate I gave him a quick wave and tugged on my bushy white beard. His eyes widened and he nudged his brother. I waved to him too and when I did both boys yelled, “SANTA.” The parents seemed puzzled, but they were not looking in my direction so I ducked out of sight and scampered through the yards to Gayle’s house. There I put on a first-rate act for her brother and I was told that Glenn remained a “believer” for one more year.
It felt good having done Gayle and her family a big favor, but I always wondered about the two Jewish boys I had spoofed. Years later my sister was going out with Gayle’s brother, Billy, and though Gayle and I no longer saw each other, I’d go over from time to time to see the family.
One December afternoon I pulled up to Gayle’s house and I saw the two brothers tossing a football on their front lawn and I decided to make conversation. They were about eight and nine at the time and I told them that they had pretty good throwing arms.
“But you need a better football,” I said. “This one’s pretty ratty and it’s low on air.” Then I added the setup line: “Make sure you tell Santa to bring you a new NFL football.”
“We’re Jewish,” the older boy said.
“Oh, then I guess you don’t believe in Santa?”
“We do, we do,” he replied. “We saw him a few years ago right over there.”
He pointed to the dining room window.
I was touched that they had remembered that night long ago, so a couple of weeks later I had a brand-new football gift wrapped and sent to their house a few days before Christmas. It was signed, “Santa.”
I never saw the boys after that. They have long grown up. But I’m sure somewhere there are two Jewish men in their fifties who still believe in Santa, no matter what the naysayers might have told them.